30 Days, 30 Grads: Uni alum's not done exploring

30 Days, 30 Grads: Uni alum's not done exploring

URBANA — For Marie Lilly, going away to college has provided an opportunity to see the world — from studying sea turtles in Costa Rica to exploring ecosystems in the Amazon.

And the Urbana Uni High grad isn't done exploring.

Shortly after she receives her bachelor's degree Monday from Ohio's Oberlin College, Lilly will head to South America to begin a Fulbright-funded job teaching English to Spanish-speaking university students in Villa Vicencio, Colombia.

"It's about two hours from Bogota, where the Andes Mountains meet the plains," said Lilly, who at 22 already has multiple stamps in her passport.

For as long as she can remember, Lilly has been fascinated with foreign countries, learning how to speak Spanish, German and Japanese. In high school, she developed an affinity for another field — biology.

Put the two together and you have the makings of a unique four years at Oberlin, a small, private liberal arts college located about a half-hour southwest of Cleveland.

"My first real interest in biology stemmed from a field entomology class my senior year at Uni," Lilly said. "Every weekend, we would go to different areas of the community, collect insects and later identify them."

Her mother remembers those days well.

"With that bug project, the usual method involved the student capturing the insect and pinning it," Janice Lilly said. The only problem: "Marie didn't want to hurt them, so she got a special camera lens and took pictures of them instead."

The bilingual biologist has taken advantage of several opportunities to study her favorite subject abroad while at Oberlin.

Stop No. 1: Grenada, Spain, where she interned as a teacher at a bilingual grade school.

That was followed by trips to Costa Rica, where Lilly spent two winter terms studying green sea turtles and the endangered Hawksbill sea turtles.

That's easier said than done, she discovered.

Despite their slow gait on land, turtles "are actually pretty fast in the water," Lilly said. "I learned the trick is to wait long enough for them to come to you."

Her third international adventure was in Ecuador.

"I studied abroad as part of a conservation and ecology project," she said. "We lived with host families, which really improved my Spanish." While there, Lilly took field trips to the various ecosystems of the South American country, which borders Colombia, her next destination.

"I loved the Amazon region and the Cloud Forest region," she said. "The country really has a lot of biodiversity."

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